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Returning to Office During Pandemic Requires Attention to Detail

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology has allowed employees to return to the office one day a week since October. Ensuring crucial details were covered was key to getting staff back in the building safely.

Many associations trying to figure out how to make a safe return to their offices during the pandemic are looking for examples of ways to do it. Recently, I spoke with the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), which decided to take a hybrid approach where staff work one day from the office and four days remotely.

“Once we ripped the Band-Aid off and showed we could work from home, we put together a work group to be more flexible and figure out how can we better utilize our space within our office suite,” said Bob Hall, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, senior director or human resources and talent development at APIC.

Because its members work with infectious disease control, APIC hired a member consultant to go through its offices and help them figure out how to best return safely.

APIC, which has just under 50 staff, limits capacity to about 10 employees per day at its Arlington, Virginia, office. While state and local safety standards allow for more people in the space, “we were a little conservative—just to err on the side of caution—in case the guidelines fluctuated because cases got worse,” Hall said.

In terms of reopening, Hall focused on safety protocols from the moment staff entered the building, to getting up to their desks. “The first thing they do is put a glove on and take their temperature,” Hall said of employees coming into the building. “Then they have to record it on an attestation sheet, and sign that to make sure they don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms [listed on the sheet].”

Elevator capacity is limited by the building where APIC rents its space. The consultant helped APIC figure out which employees could come in and work while maintaining recommended social distancing in the organization’s open floor plan. APIC also had source cleaning supplies, which had been in short supply when they reopened last fall, and order a few new materials.

“We had 60 radials, the kind you see like you see at Target that say ‘six feet apart,’” Hall said. “We had those ordered with our logo to customize it, and they were all throughout the office to make sure staff stayed six feet apart.”

In addition, the organization had to create rules about the number of people who could be in the kitchen, ban the leaving of open food—such as a communal tray of brownies—and buy differently for items APIC typically stocked for staff. “You couldn’t just have regular sugar in a big container that you pour into your coffee,” Hall said. “It had to be individual packets.”

Plus, APIC set up cleaning rules and purchased different types of cleaning supplies. “We had to think about how to properly sanitize our electrical equipment because you can’t use the same sanitizing and disinfectant sprays that you do on your desk on, for example, the copy machine,” Hall said. “Then we created a rule: If you touch it, you clean it. Wipe down all the buttons with the designated wipes for copier. If you go in any cabinets, wipe down the handles.”

The key thing with these plans is to remember that flexibility is necessary. Some staff members whose assigned day to come in was Friday opted out of returning at all on their scheduled day, and that was fine with APIC. And on some days, more people need to come in.

“We had a scenario where four of our people had their laptops crash at the same time,” Hall said. “So, we had to have four additional people in the office and our IT people. We had to coordinate that because there were people there on days that weren’t supposed to be there.”

Hall generally audits the entry logs and attestation sheets to make sure only the people who are supposed to be there on a given day come in, to both prioritize safety and discourage staff from getting the impression they can come any time.

“Overall, it’s been favorable,” Hall said. “We have a core group of people who enjoy this and want to go into the office.”

What are your plans for reopening? Share in the comments.

(Anchiy/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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